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News release - Kelowna hearing (last of 50)

24th June, 2004 : Vancouver (Internal)
Proportional representation blasted

The last of 50 public hearings of the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform Thursday night featured a flurry of calls for a Mixed Member Proportional electoral system — and a ringing attack on Proportional Representation.

Speaking to the finale hearing in Kelowna, Jim Nielsen, who was a Social Credit cabinet minister for 11 years, blasted PR in general as "a monumental error in judgment."

"Why would we consider altering a system that has provided for the most part stable government over the past 133 years?" he asked the audience of 79 people. "Why would we wish to empower small segments of society with influence inconsistent with their political base?

"Would we want power-brokers constantly putting their votes up for sale among those larger groups seeking to overthrow the government of the day, if their own self-interests were met at the expense of the wellbeing of the province?"

Nielsen said PR systems create minority and coalition governments, and those mean instability that would drive away investors in B.C. and cause the provincial economy to shrink.

Under the MMP system endorsed by a string of other speakers Thursday night, a number of legislature seats would go to MLAs elected in constituencies. The remaining seats would go to MLAs from pre-published party lists. Those would result in each party's share of places in the house reflecting its share of the popular vote.

Said Nielsen: "The idea of a person becoming an MLA because their name is on a political list without benefit of direct endorsement by the electorate is appalling in our system. Why would we tolerate back-door MLAs?"

The former broadcaster added: "Some changes may improve the manner in which we choose members of the legislature: A run-off vote to confirm a majority vote for members may be quite acceptable, but the concept of Proportional Representation would be a monumental error of judgment.

"It would divide the people into small interest groups promoting religious differences, ethnic origins, single-issue zealots or others prepared to seize a small part of the political pie to be used as leverage in the world of political brokering.

"We would be fragmenting the system and entering a world of political instability. We would also be welcoming political opportunism, corruption and social unrest."

And Nielsen concluded: "A former premier of this province said Proportional Representation is for losers. That is perhaps the only time I have agreed with Glen Clark."

On the other side, Devra Rice of Kelowna was one of the series of speakers argued for MMP:

"Our government should not be based on win-or-lose. It's not a hockey game. . . With MMP, we'd get more diverse views, more discussion, and perhaps even compromise. . . I think it would end up a bit more moderate and a bit more positive."

As for the party-list system, she said: "The fact is that most people make their judgments in regard to voting based on the party ideology. . . . The party vote is a reasonable way to make a decision."

Patty Weston also backed MMP, saying: "First Past the Post does not promote the electing of MLAs that fully represent the people of B.C. Nor does it reflect the richness of out pluralist society. (It) leads to 'strategic voting' -- the infamous 'lesser evil vote' -- and it is also not particularly accountable, as huge majorities are possible. . . .

"MMP, I believe, also facilitates a move away from a competitive, adversarial working environment within government, to a more cooperative, collaborative and harmonious work culture. This will also attract more women to politics, which is also desperately needed."

Rae Stonehouse said MMP should also help tackle the "unfortunate reality that our present democratic institutions largely exclude women, Aboriginal peoples, people of colour, the poor, and representatives of other minority groups."

And Terry W. Robertson urged assembly members:

"Don't try to reinvent the wheel. Look at what the vast majority of the democratic countries of the world do, and also what a big majority of the people of B.C. have said to this Assembly.

"The written and oral presentations overwhelmingly support some kind of Proportional Representation, with MMP being the most favoured form."

Other speakers backing MMP included David Rice, Devra's husband. He then treated Assembly members, and the audience, to a cake to celebrate the 50th and final public hearing.

Assembly members now meet in Prince George on the weekend to review what they heard at the hearings (held all over B.C. in May and June) and to begin preparing for their deliberation and decision-making phase that starts in September.

While public hearings have ended, people can still send written submissions to the Assembly. Details on how to do this are on the Assembly's website at

The Citizens' Assembly is an independent, representative, non-partisan group of 160 randomly selected British Columbians. They must decide by December 15 whether to propose a change to BC's electoral system. If they recommend a change, it will be the subject of a referendum for all voters in the May 2005 provincial election.
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